The Lesson From a Bygone Era: Don't Fear the Native Age, Embrace It!

26/10/2013 21:02 BST | Updated 25/12/2013 10:12 GMT

"The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife." So said David Ogilvy, the man who founded the company I work for. It's a memorable quote, in no small part for the way it reveals attitudes of his time (it appears in his book, Confessions of An Advertising Man, first published in 1963.)

It's often repeated that Donald Draper of Mad Men was apparently based on Ogilvy. His quote evokes a thankfully bygone era. But there's something in it worth considering.

With advertising, don't treat the consumer like a moron. Respect people's intelligence. Men or women. Even unmarried people.

Respecting people's intelligence is the great marketing opportunity of our age.

The reason I joined Ogilvy after more than a decade working as a correspondent for ITV News is that I feel there is an opportunity for companies, organizations and brands to tell their stories in a journalistic way.

Consumers know a hard sell when they see one. I fast forward through most TV advertising if I can. But work out a way to get a message into something that consumers would choose to watch or read, and not only can you sell a product, you can build a brand.

There's a lot about Native Advertising that is confusing, not least its definition. Native Advertising is one of those phrases that marketing types like to brandish, without many knowing what it means. If you've never heard it before, a shorthand explanation would be "advertorial for the 21st Century."

The AOL UK study, which I contributed to, settled on this definition: Native Advertising is "sponsored content, which is relevant to the consumer experience, which is not interruptive, and which looks and feels similar to its editorial environment."

It's probably the best attempt to capture the meaning of the phrase yet. However, I believe the most important point about Native Advertising can be made very simply: it's got to be interesting. It's got to be good. It's got to be something I'd look at.

Consumers may express a distaste for brand-sponsored content. Particularly in the UK, thanks to the advert-free BBC, there's the impression that journalism should not be corrupted by commercial interests. But brands have always sponsored content. Your newspaper (the one you used to read) is full of ads. When it was first published, The Times' front page was only ads. Watch Sky News or CNN? There'll be more news after this break.

Old school adverts are what we're used to, which is why older consumers say they prefer them to Native Advertising. But a younger generation wants ads that aim to instruct or entertain rather than distract.

The industry I left behind, traditional journalism, is suffering a crisis of revenue. You don't have to go far in it to find journalists worrying about the extinction of their trade. The truth is, though, journalism will always exist, just as people love to gossip and exchange stories. Native Advertising offers it the chance to prosper once more.

Look at BuzzFeed. For all its lists of important cats, it also carries serious journalism about the Washington shutdown, gay rights in Russia and the Syrian refugee crisis.

It also has Native Advertising, and when it does it, it gets it right. A recent article detailing 12 Apps You've Gotta Have If You're Traveling (something I'd read) is provided by BuzzFeed partner Hyatt.

Another partner is Microsoft's Internet Explorer. How do they use Native Advertising to rehabilitate IE's reputation? With articles about how everyone loves a comeback, a list of amazing things from the 90s, and things from the past that deserve a second chance. In the partner byline, it even calls itself the Browser You Loved To Hate. It's witty, and engaging.

The advertising industry that David Ogilvy helped found has changed unrecognisably. But he would love today's opportunities.

Half a century ago, he said: "There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers."

It's a quote that is in a sense as dated as the one I opened with. But again it contains a truth. Give the people stuff they want to look at. It might be the only hope for journalism, not to mention the advertising industry, to succeed.